Fun Hawaii kids activities: What to do on the Big Island of Hawaii on your family vacation

The grandest and the newest Hawaii island… and it’s still bubbling

The Big Island got its name because it’s bigger than all the other islands combined.

Waimea (Kohala and Kamuela) is like stepping back in time to the Paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) days– you’re just as likely to encounter a horse on the road as another car. The volcanos are a must to see, and the Kona coast’s beaches and clear waters teeming with tropical fish are unbelievable. The Hilo side is blessed with lots of rain, but that makes for fabulous waterfalls and tropical rain forests.

Be prepared for long drives between different sections of the island… and with kids in tow, you should plan on visiting just one area of the island per day (Hilo – Volcano – Waimea – Kona). Even the drive from Hilo to Kona can be long for little ones, so allow time for fun stops between destinations.

Here’s our recommendations for things to do on The Big Island.

Stand at the edge of a live Volcano — Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has everything from steaming volcanic calderas to lush rainforests full of rare native birds. You can drive into the park and get a good orientation from the visitors center. There are several easy hikes, and the Thurston Lava tube is one of our favorites. You’ll hear beautiful songs of native birds and walk through towering ferns on your way to the lava tube.

You may want to take guided eco-tour rather than driving yourself, as often areas are closed due to lava flows and wind direction — and these guys keep up to the minute on where the best places to see the lava flows are.

Fly over Hawaii in a Helicopter — The view of the Island from a helicopter is amazing. You can’t get any closer than this to the lava flows, and the Island’s beauty from the air is breathtaking. There are several good helicopter tour companies on the Big Island, with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters getting top ratings from many in the know.

Learn about Hawaiian CulturePu’uhonua o Honaunau, or Place of Refuge, located a short drive from Kailua-Kona is a good place to start. Ancient temples and ki’i (tikis) are located next to a spectacular bay filled with green sea turtles. The visitor center is open 8 to 5 daily and the fees at this National Park are nominal. The park closes at 8 p.m so it’s a good place to bring a picnic and enjoy a spectacular sunset.

Explore Waipio Valley — This incredible valley is of historic and spiritual importance to Hawaiians. The ka’ai, woven baskets more than 400 years old containing the bones of two high chiefs stolen from the Bishop Museum, are believed to be hidden here. Once 40,000 Hawaiians lived in the valley, now only about 50 remain living in this quiet remote location. A river running through the valley ends in a black sand beach stretching between cliffs nearly a mile high. There’s no better way to experience it than on a Waipio horseback trail ride (you can’t take a rental car down).

Visit Mauna Kea — Journey to the top of the world’s tallest mountain (you need to measure from the ocean floor) for the clearest air ever. Scientists from around the world come to Mauna Kea’s observatories for the pristine views of the skies above. The air is thin, but this is an experience not to be missed. Rent a 4-wheel drive vehicle or take the Mauna Kea eco-tour for an evening trip that is spectacular!

Kayak the Kona Coast — Keahou Bay area of the Kona coast is great for kayaking — as rainbow-colored tropical fish glide beneath you in the crystal clear waters — you can paddle by impressive sea cliffs, over underwater lava tubes, and into mysterious sea caves. Be sure to go snorkeling, too. Take a guided tour to make sure you find the Sea Caves.

Take in a Luau — I like the luau that is held on the grounds of Kamehameha the Great’s former estate at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel, making it a truly royal Hawaiian experience. It’s Kona’s only beachfront luau and has been rated the best luau on the Big Island by visitors, locals and travel writers.

Snorkle in Kealakekua Bay — This beautiful bay, where Captain Cook was once greeted as a god, is my favorite snorkeling and diving spot in Hawaii. I spent many summer days skindiving in these crystal clear waters…you won’t believe how many tropical fish you’ll see. We swam with several turtles and saw spinner dolphins just yards away on our last dive here. The Fair Wind Catamaran Snorkle Cruise is a good choice for those who don’t own their own boat or have a friend with one. The bay is difficult to get to on foot, and the trip from Kona to the bay by boat is fun.

Go Deep Sea Sport Fishing — If you like fishing, you need to experience bringing in one of our big ones — marlins over 1000 lbs have been caught here. I recommend catch and release. These big guys deserve to live on and give another fisherman the thrill of a lifetime! “Bite Me” Sportfishing Charter consistently gets rave reviews… don’t forget the Dramamine!

Discover ancient petroglyphs — Free guided tours of the petroglyphs surrounding the Waikoloa Beach Resort are offered Tuesday through Friday at 10:30am and Saturday at 8:30am; The Kings’ Shops (ph 808-886-8811) coordinates the tours that meet in front of the Food Pavilion. Visitors with disabilities, as well as others, can explore some of Hawaii’s finest petroglyphs at Kaupulehu Petroglyphs in the Kona Village Resort, (ph 808-325-5555). Free guided tours are offered three times a week, reservations are required to get past the gatehouse.